Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Rich Stew

The Mystic Vision, February 28th:
As a bee seeks nectar from all kinds of flowers
Seek teachings everywhere.
Like a deer that finds a quiet place to graze
Seek seclusion to digest
all that you have gathered.
Like a mad one beyond all limits
go where you please and live like a lion
completely free of all fear.
          Dzogchen Tantra
I sent the above reading from The Mystic Vision to a friend who celebrates her birthday on this day. It fit her personality but it also fits the teachings of the Tao and is applicable to those of us who practice t'ai chi chih moving meditation.

When we remain open to our practice--and in our lives!--we constantly receive teachings. The Chi that circulates and flows as a result of this practice provides us with the opportunity to open our hearts and live out of love rather than fear. It's simply wonderful to imagine myself living like a lion or, even, "a mad one beyond all limits."

This evening I practiced TCC as rose-pink tinted the edges of the sky and bid the day farewell. The entire day burst with sunshine and--since tonight is full moon and the sky is clear--I expect that the entire night will burst with moonshine. Tonight I practiced my movements by direction, a method that Sr. Antonia says she sometimes employs to teach TCC. I began with side-to-side movements, then up and down, and finally forward/backward movements. What fun!

Though I've often paired similar movements together when teaching a class I've never combined all similar directional movements together in a full practice. I feel blessed to learn strategies and techniques from other TCC teachers, trainers, and guides. Our unique contributions and varied teaching approaches create a very rich stew indeed!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Joy is always there....

Today I practiced for Justin Stone. The most recent (February 2010) Vital Force journal included an Editor's Note that alerted readers to the news of Justin's December fall and subsequent hospitalization. It noted that many people wondered what they could do for Justin during his rehab and recovery. One simple recommendation followed: Practice T'ai Chi Chih. Practice when you want to and practice when you don't.

Today was a practice when you don't want to day. Last night's sleep was disrupted by a low blood sugar. When I rose to treat it, I was well aware of the close-to-full brightness of the moon just outside my windows and door. The rest of the night was spent in restless wakefulness ... awake-asleep-awake-asleep.

Today I felt tired and unsettled and my heart wasn't in the movements but I did them anyway. And, as is typical, by the time I reached Light at the Top of the Head/Light at the Temples I felt a wee bit quieter and calmer than when I began. A brief resting in silence after practice helped me remain in a place of peace for a few minutes longer.

Today's practice after an upsy-downsy night helped restore my gratitude for this always-available, ever-present, sometimes-difficult to perform moving meditation we call joy thru movement. As Justin reminds us: "Joy" is always there; it only has to be uncovered. (The Vital Force, February 2010, p. 1)

Friday, February 26, 2010

On Problems

My morning began with a mix-up in scheduling that challenged my sense of inner peace. I arose three hours earlier than usual to travel to a medical test. Once there, I was told that the test was cancelled and rescheduled for next week though no one called to pass this information on to me.

Back home I gladly gave myself to my t'ai chi chih practice followed by 15 minutes of tranquil sitting. I sensed that if I allowed myself time for quiet movement and seated silence my frustration and disappointment could transform into something else entirely.

My second floor TCC practice looked down on bright sunlight that flooded the woods and highlighted the stark, dark shadows of trees that stretched across fluorescent snowscapes. Even though I practiced inside the house I felt as if I was standing within one of those shadows; I sensed that I moved from a place that lacked light.

My quiet sitting after practice helped me to recognize that my morning's emotional roller-coaster was similar to the shadows and sunshine, a mixture of darkness and light. Perhaps the rescheduling was an unexpected blessing; now I had more time to ready myself for the test.

I recalled a similar experience several decades ago. An initial appointment for a tooth extraction was cancelled on the spot after my prompt arrival and an overly long wait. That time I used the extra week to positively and proactively prepare myself for the procedure which I insisted be done with local rather than general anesthetic. My guided imagery, relaxation, and t'ai chi ch'uan practices (plus music played through headphones during the extraction) all contributed to a quick, easy, successful outcome the following week.

Perhaps this morning offered me an opportunity. Hmm, perhaps it wasn't a hardship after all ...
   On Problems

Our choicest plans
     have fallen through,
our airiest castles
     tumbled over,
because of lines
     we neatly drew
and later neatly
     stumbled over.
          From: Grooks by Piet Hein

Thursday, February 25, 2010

One Body

A cold cloudy morning vanished into clear blue skies and sunshine. What a wonderful surprise!

This morning's t'ai chi chih class in Cornucopia passed quickly. Today we were back to our regular full practice; over the previous several weeks I'd cut our repetitions to six per movement in order to allow more time for refinements.

Several students came up to me after today's practice and commented on how much they like doing the nine repetitions. Without repeating each movement nine times, one said, the practice feels incomplete ... something is missing.

It is interesting to realize that we've created a groove, habit, or pattern that, when changed, feels slightly off, not right, or--even--broken. Our bodies are now connected to a rhythm that echoes through us after years of practicing with each other in this same room.

It is also affirming to hear from students that they appreciate and value the time we spend moving through the form. When we travel together through nine repetitions, the link is strong, the relaxation deep, the feeling of Oneness undeniable.

We have so few opportunities in life to be together with other people in silence. When we circulate the Chi as we move together, when we coordinate our movements to a shared pace and rhythm, and when we slow our Monkey Minds down, we unify into one body of Cosmic Consciousness.... It's a precious gift.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Peeling the Layers

Fat, furry flakes covered our snowshoe tracks near the house this morning. Now the sky is spotted blue amid generous clouds and occasional threads of sunshine weave their way through the trees.

Though my legs were tired from my two classes last night, today's practice felt good ... easy. Daughter in the Valley has always brimmed with energy and now that I've slightly revised Daughter on the Mountain Top that, too, feels more energized, fuller.

I'm aware as I move that I'm still readjusting, realigning, and revisiting each and every movement searching for additional ways to deepen my practice, relax my body, and  inspire a freer flow of Chi. As I reevaluate my moves I realize that t'ai chi chih isn't doing t'ai chi chih. Still, I believe that when these changes settle into my body and mind I'll return to a place of greater trust in my practice and the ABCs of TCC (activating-balancing-circulating the Chi) will take care of themselves.

I'm continuing to peel the onion, stripping away unnecessary layers of skin, carving out bruises and unhealthy spots, and moving toward the center. Meister Eckhart talks about this process in today's reading from The Mystic Vision:
A man has many skins in himself, covering the depths of his heart. Man knows so many things; he does not know himself. Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, just like an ox's or a bear's so thick and hard, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


My low-energy headachy day ended with--thankfully!--two back-to-back t'ai chi chih classes. I told Frances as I left to teach that I didn't feel well but I assumed that I'd feel better after class because that's so often what happens to me. (I often tell my students that teaching t'ai chi chih moving meditation is the only job I've ever held in which I feel better after I finish than when I began.)

It is a great pleasure to teach a moving meditation form that yields immediate results! Both groups seemed to float easily into the slow-soft-flowing-effortlessness of moving as One. After our practice in each class there was a feeling of quiet and peacefulness that rippled out from the group, into the room, and beyond.

Again and again, I'm reminded how blessed I am to teach T'ai Chi Chih Joy thru Movement when I witness it transforming people--myself included--into peaceful, calm centers of silence ... few words spoken, few words needed. And, right now, very few words are coming to mind to explain what it means to be a joyful participant in this wonderful life-affirming, world-changing practice.

Yes, I still feel unexplainably tired. Yes, I still have a headache. But now ... the anxiety and tension are gone. I am peace....

Monday, February 22, 2010

Emptiness Full Filled

A cloudy morning segued into sun and blessed blue skies by midday. I performed today's practice while seated in a chair. My knees, spent from daily TCC practices as well as daily snowshoe outings in the woods, felt like they knee-ed a break.

Practice felt good, of course, but I missed my traditional standing-moving-weight shifting review because--honestly--I like shifting my weight and feeling my t'an t'ien lead me forward and back, up and down, and round and round. (T'an t'ien still leads me while I sit, of course, but it feels different because there's less mobility and flow.)

After practice I remained quietly in my chair simply receiving. Today for the first time I received with my eyes open. It felt more difficult to sit quietly while my eyes focused outside of myself. Eventually, I closed my eyes. Less distraction. Less opportunity for my mind to wander away from receiving and into the jungle of Monkey Mind antics.

Under the covering of my eyelids I continued to receive with gratitude. Amazing, isn't it, that something so simple--and empty--can feel so full?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

It All Went Up in Smoke

Hmmm. Where was my mind this morning? Yes, I wrote my t'ai chi chih blog and posted it. As I was printing a copy for my records I realized that it looked strange coming out of the printer. Why? Because I posted it on my other blog, Under the Forest Canopy.

Please visit to read today's entry Smoke on the Water and Fire in the Sky. For those of us old enough to remember ... yes, that is a Deep Purple song title from 1972.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Embedding Myself in My Body

The sun's gleaming yellow eye stared straight into my eyes this morning as it peeked over the rim of the Earth into a new day. My fingertips were brushed with golden light as they Push-Pulled their way through the TCC form. And quickly--too soon--the sun lifted into the sky.

This morning I feel incredible gratitude for the on-going gifts I receive from the TCC retreat I attended at the end of January. This time of joining with others in our practice and receiving refinements, suggestions, and questions from Sr. Antonio was just what I needed to refresh and renew my practice. It pulled me out of my doldrums and pushed me past the repetitive patterns I'd established in my regular practice into new possibilities ... new opportunities. In a sense, I suppose, my practice and I have been reborn.

I'm still fiddling with the intricacies of how to glide effortlessly through each movement pattern but there's a new layer of softness and relaxation, a deeper understanding of my body and how its movements affect what I feel and experience as I move.
But what is this transformation? The soul discovers its source of being in the Spirit, the mind is opened to this inner light, the will is energized by this inner power. The very substance of the soul is changed; it is made a 'partaker of the divine nature.' And this transformation affects not only the soul but also the body....
               From: The Mystic Vision, February 19 

Friday, February 19, 2010

One Voice

The sun and blue, blue sky are supersized today ... brightness everywhere! I practice facing into brilliant light and glorious blue and feel in tune with the Earth's vibrant song. Soft, flowing movements stream out of me and I marvel at the beauty that lies around and within me.

Today is incredibly synchronous. First, a quote from a book I read this morning. Henry Lewis, an African-American dairy farmer in Sulphur Springs, TX tells the book's author that the Earth is a pasture because God is the creator and pasture is the foodstuff for his creation. He explains further:
     Pas-ture. You can use the word in the same way that you use the word godliness. We all love to use the word G-O-D. You can use pasture the same way--it doesn't change....
     ... you have to get out here and say I feel it. That's what It's about. Church is a building, a place to assemble and worship together. But every day is God.
     From: Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness
     by Lisa Hamilton, Counterpoint Press, 2009, pp. 43, 45
Mid-morning I listened to another wonderful show on Public Radio featuring the women's singing group, The Wailin' Jennys. Just as members of the a cappella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock, discussed on this show earlier in the week, the Jennys talked about the need to listen to each other as they sing. One Jenny spoke about the importance of feeling the vibration in her body ... feeling the rightness of the Jennys' sound and harmonies.

Both the book and the radio program reminded me of t'ai chi chih moving meditation. While the Jennys struggled to articulate exactly what it is they experience as they sing and how they coordinate their efforts to create an ideal sound, it was clear that--for them--it isn't an intellectual exercise but an intuitive sense, a feeling for what works, a bodily reaction to the coordinated sound of the moment.

This is t'ai chi chih ... you can feel when your personal practice connects with a reality beyond yourself, you can feel when your class or practice group coordinate themselves into one unified whole, and you can feel when the miracle of Oneness is achieved, fleeting though it may be....

Most--if not all of us--strive to achieve that Oneness during our lifetimes and it's a wondrous moment when it is sensed, felt, heard.
.... This is the sound of all of us
Singing with love and the will to trust
Leave the rest behind it will turn to dust
This is the sound of all of us

This is the sound of one voice
One people, one voice
A song for every one of us
This is the sound of one voice....
               From: One Voice by The Wailin' Jennys

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Feeling ... Sensing ... Becoming Aware

Spring--still a month away--offers increasing hope and promise as daylight lengthens, temperatures climb, and, a bit more often, sun shines from dawn to dusk. On these light-filled days sun energy floods sight and senses all the day through. Today was such a day....

Namaste (our dog) and Chiripa (our kitten) accompanied Frances and me to the mailbox this afternoon then raced each other up the quarter-mile drive in fits and starts. All of us thoroughly enjoyed the warmth and light. Yes, temperatures will continue to dip and snow will fall, but the brighter, longer light breathes additional energy into each day and whispers tender promises through the darkness of each night.

My drive to Cornucopia for our morning t'ai chi chih class was washed with light. Today we took time to review and discuss Vanjie Bratt's (a certified TCC teacher from Minnesota) TCC stick figures and then practiced shifting our weight and leading with t'an t'ien. Because we are a diverse group of long-time practitioners, t'ai chi ch'uan players, and newcomers, we engaged in spirited discussion and debate about how we perform various movements which is ... wonderful.

It's fun to watch students as they feel the movements in their bodies, make slight adjustments, and then pay close attention to how each variation feels. That's part of the never-ending journey of t'ai chi chih: testing, trying, changing, feeling, changing again, feeling more.... As practicing t'ai chi chih players we're continually aiming for greater comfort, deeper relaxation, softer softness, and continuous flow.

Several days ago, after reading an article in an old issue of The Vital Force, I tried moving differently, allowing my hips to relax and open more completely. Now, of course, I can't remember the article I read or the movement I tried. But I do remember that my body felt better and now I have a feeling sense of what I want to aim for when I move my body from side-to-side. That feeling sense is all I need to inspire me toward a greater depth in my TCC practice.

As Sandy McAlister (one of our teacher-trainers) writes in The Vital Force (May 2008):
 ... When we nurture and work at our practice by becoming softer, flowing effortlessly, grounding, and generally applying the principles mindfully (with feeling-awareness [my emphasis] rather than with a calculating mind), we are strengthening our relationship with our TCC practice.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


A black-capped chickadee flutters outside the patio door and looks in on me as I flow through my morning practice. Chiripa, our little three-month old kitten, spies the bird and begins to stalk. Then she notices the grey squirrels at the feeder and her tail joins in the pursuit, jerking from side to side. With a window between them it doesn't seem to matter to her that the squirrels are at least two to three times her size....

After teaching TCC for over two hours last night, this morning's practice feels wonderfully soft and relaxed. I'm reminded of Justin Stone's admonition to practice as if you've lost your last friend, your job, and anything else you care about (my paraphrasing). Once you've lost everything, nothing seems to matter. This is when a TCC practice can truly flow without effort.

It's infinitely easier to focus solely on my personal practice after observing the movements of two classes of students yesterday. Teaching requires you to direct attention to a classroom of students in order to notice how they move; then you must employ multiple strategies to modify habits and/or redirect attention to various aspects of movements in order to allow room for change to occur. It's a challenging job.

Each person has a different learning style and we all become ingrained in our own habit patterns. When students--and teachers--are open to new ideas and new ways of moving though, change, improvement and increased relaxation and softness are possible.

I notice already that the refinements I learned at the St. Paul TCC retreat several weeks ago are integrating more completely into my body and mind. And with that integration comes more comfort, flow, and relaxation. Yes!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Simply Begin ...

I did a partial seated TCC practice in the doctor's office today while I waited for a doctor to arrive. Medical examination rooms are an excellent place to practice; you're alone, it's quiet, and--if you're nervous as I tend to be in medical offices--practice brings you into a place of quiet calm.

I remember a time maybe 10 years ago when I accompanied my mother to one of her doctors' appointments. Since Mom was one of my very first TCC students and it was clear that she was anxious about meeting a new doctor, I suggested we both do some TCC together while we waited. Frankly, it was hard for her to relax but it calmed her slightly and I certainly felt better.

I've used t'ai chi chih practice (sometimes it's a mental rehearsal) as a tool under many different circumstances: before workshops and presentations, prior to a job interview, before returning a difficult phone call, during an afternoon break from work beside a busy downtown street, or while waiting for a friend. You can do t'ai chi chih practice virtually anywhere.

The biggest barrier to a more public practice is usually the ego (I really should have written that word in capital letters). So, deliberately set your ego aside and, instead of focusing on what people around you do or say, concentrate on your practice ... nothing more.

Sounds easy doesn't it? Well, it may not be ... but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't try.

Part of t'ai chi chih practice--and often a bigger part than we like to admit--is dealing with Monkey Mind as it tempts, twists, and torments us with its continuous voices of self-judgment, self-doubt, and low self-esteem. These moments of practice in a wide variety of locations and situations reinforces the reality that practice does help you feel better. What do you need to do? Simply begin.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sweet Honey

Three or four new inches of fresh snow and a mid-night sweep up our driveway by the Russell Town plow started our day. Now the wind swirls around treetops and sweeps dustings of snow off the rooftop. And the snow falls lightly still....

I listened to Sweet Honey In The Rock on Minnesota Public Radio this morning and was inspired yet again by their wonderful music as well as their commitment to spreading truth and justice throughout the world. I first saw them perform in the late '70s. In fact, I worked at Amazon Bookstore selling tickets to their concert the day of one of their shows. Exhausted by the thrum of customers and the busy rush of business, I debated whether to attend the concert myself. But I'd heard their records and rave reviews from friends so I had to see and hear them in person.

My tired body and spirit were extremely grateful I made that decision. By the end of the performance I was reenergized and spiritually uplifted. The evening was a delightful and invigorating combination of a cappella singing and storytelling that reenforced an encouraging belief that, "Yes, the world can be a better place if we're willing to work to make it so."

Today's radio performance and interview with Sweet Honey's members reminded me of t'ai chi chih practice. Several of the performers said that although they'd been performing for over 35 years they still felt that they were constantly learning new things. In fact, they went on, what would be the point in doing it if they weren't?

Exactly. What would be the point of doing t'ai chi chih practice if I perfected my movements so precisely that each day's practice was exactly the same? The same predictable practice day after day after day. How long could I continue to practice is that were true?

I followed the movements of t'an t'ien today as it rocked and swiveled, moved and turned. But who knows what I'll experience tomorrow?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Roots, Buds, Flowers ...

Happy Chinese New Year ... and Happy Valentine's Day! We now enter the Year of the Tiger....

It's a cloudy, windy day in the North Woods. Our three and a half days of bounteous sunshine have succumbed to snow which began falling minutes ago. A stiff gust of wind "flapped the wings" of a small pine tree outside my window during practice; a green pine-needle-feathered bird readying for flight.

Refinements continue. Bad habits gradually release their hold on my body and mind and I continue to remind myself to float in a place of openness and receptivity.

My weight shift gradually improves as my feet remain on the ground longer and I clearly distinguish between straight and bent legs. My t'an t'ien leads me through movements, as usual. Still, I play with the "turns, swivels, and pivots" of my hips and pelvis per Sr. Antonia's handout at our January retreat. My intention to "stay in tuck" (as I understood it during my years of studying t'ai chi ch'uan) likely led me to keep my lower body less flexible and yielding than desired.

I feel incredibly blessed to have this opportunity to deepen and strengthen my practice. Yes, it is hard to realize and admit that I had misconceptions about how to perform movements or how to be in my body. Yet I realize that by recognizing and claiming those misperceptions and limitations I'm now more able to move beyond them. Through acceptance I can continue to change, grow, and improve.

By sewing (sowing) the seeds of t'ai chi chih practice in my own life I'm offering myself the opportunity to grow deeper roots, nurture healthier buds, and blossom into beautiful leaves and flowers....

Saturday, February 13, 2010

We Have a Beautiful Mother

We have a beautiful
Her hills
are buffaloes
Her buffaloes

We have a beautiful
Her oceans
are wombs
Her wombs oceans.

We have a beautiful
Her teeth
the white stones
at the edge
of the water
the summer
her plentiful

We have a beautiful
Her green lap
Her brown embrace
Her blue body
we know.
               Alice Walker
               From: Her Blue Body Everything We Know
               Included on the CD: Praises for the World
Late afternoon clouds after a beautiful, inspiring, sunshiny morning. I practiced today along with our Praises for the World CD. What a different and wonderful experience!

This collaboration of 16 musicians repeats the same musical theme throughout as each artist improvises on a common subject: this beautiful world we call home. The contributions are amazingly diverse in honor of this common theme: Buddhist and Hindi chanting, singing in Portuguese and Spanish, vocal improvisations, spoken word poetry, and more.

The CD case describes its contents as, "A devotional and ecstatic long playing chant for our world." The manner in which each piece segues seamlessly into the next is incredibly soothing and heart-opening.

I admit, I have been working relentlessly on refinements to my practice. This was an unexpected and welcome diversion. Today I moved with awareness and intent as I allowed myself to be buoyed by the tremendous artistry and gratitude expressed through this recording. What a gift!

Friday, February 12, 2010


I received a Golden Globe Award this morning as the round glowing orb of sun rose into the sky. We have another--our third--day of clear blue skies. It feels like a wonderful gift after so many days--months really--of clouds and greyness unabated. By practice end snowflakes twinkle at me from the top of snow piles on the deck and I stand, immersed, in a warm bath of light.

During today's practice I experience the "trickle in" effects of the recently received t'ai chi chih refinements that day-by-day grow more familiar, more comfortable, more effortless. It feels good to be in my body noticing the differences these slight--yet significant--changes make to my movements.

I feel an expanding awareness, too, which reminds me of one of Justin Stone's sayings: ... awareness is the root of T'ai Chi Chih ... circularity is the fundamental ... 'softness and continuity' are the essence.

My slow, soft movements eventually send the wild, energy-filled kitten back to bed. And I continue to move feeling grateful for another level of learning that asks me to move with care and attention, emptiness and fullness, circling--always circling--forward and back, side to side, around and around....

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Flowing ... Living ... Dying

My drive to Cornucopia for morning t'ai chi chih class whisked me past frosted trees and branches sparkling with crystalline light. Once assembled, our group melded into a wonderful stone soup of practice, refinement, reading, and discussion.

After our circle practice I handed out Sr. Antonia's distillation of the Principles of Movement based on Justin Stone's writings and teachings. Then we dipped into Principle #1: Flowing from the Center. We experienced t'an t'ien's lead through the Basic Taffy Pull following t'an t'ien with our hands and arms only--no feet or legs. When we break our movements down into segments like this, there are occasional 'ah ha' moments; something that's been missing is rediscovered or something that was never found is newly uncovered.

It was a delight to share questions, ideas, and personal experiences with body movement as we moved and felt our bodies move. For some of us it's easy to follow the flow of t'an t'ien, for others it takes concentration and practice. One thing is certain: every person's body is different, each person's experience with the Chi is individual and personal, everyone's learning style is unique. Practice--repeated, regular practice--helps us to gain a deeper understanding of how to relax the body, how to minimize overdoing, how to flow from the center.

Our reading of the Tao centered on Verse 50 (Living as an Immortal per Wayne Dyer and Love of Life per Ursula LeGuin). It asked us to notice how we experience life and death. Could we choose to do it differently? As Leonardo da Vinci said: "While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die." (Dyer, p. 245)

For me, that's one of the gifts of t'ai chi chih practice. It allows me to let go of my ego identifications: mind, body, and emotions. It encourages me to die to the past and the future, rooting myself firmly in what is in this moment, now.

When we flow from the center, we release ourselves from the control and constant direction of our minds. We let go and let God, as those who study the 12 steps might say. We taste freedom and sometimes ... it puts a smile on our face.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Knocking on Hidden Treasures....

I followed the kitten out to the unheated porch today for TCC practice. With outdoor temperatures around 29 degrees and passive solar heat--the room has three walls of windows--it was comfortable. Once out, Chiripa was in her element. She stalked a large noisy fly, invisible floating detritus, and flying birds that swooped nearby.

What a lovely sun-blessed day! I moved amid the silent rhythm of water dripping from icicles lining the roof edge, gazed upon an undulating landscape of shining white snow, and submerged myself in the glorious pure blue of cloudless sky.

My thigh muscles were used well and well-used last night with over two hours of class time so I purposely delayed today's practice 'til lunchtime. It was obvious, my muscles needed time to recover in order for me to feel stable and secure in my foundation.

I continue to play with the refinements I learned at the January 28-31 TCC retreat. I'll often adjust some minor detail in how I shift my weight or how I experience t'an t'ien leading me through the movements, then pay attention to how that change feels in my body. Occasionally I make further adjustments in search of that elusive ping of recognition when everything feels just right. Other times I'm back to start. Nope. That refinement just didn't do it....

Ultimately, that's what I love and appreciate about t'ai chi chih moving meditation. For all of its inherent simplicity it continues to mystify and challenge me. How can I possibly grow bored with a living, breathing, organic process that is ever-changing while remaining changeless? One more mystery of the Tao....
Knock on yourself as upon a door
and walk upon yourself as on a straight road.
For if you walk on the road,
It is impossible for you to go astray.
And if you knock with Wisdom,
You knock on hidden treasures ...
               The Teaching of Silvanus
               From: The Mystic Vision, February 10

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Savoring the Moments

I taught two back-to-back classes in Washburn tonight. Whew. My knee certainly feels the effects of daily practice and my continued efforts to perform my practice correctly without cheating (i.e., full weight shift and stepping out with leg extended). I'm continuing to realize the extent to which I have unintentionally modified my practice to accommodate an injured knee.

Tonight was only the second class for my beginners. I'm continually amazed by how quickly new students flow into a practice that looks and feels smooth and peaceful. I saw some startling differences from Week 1 to Week 2.

It feels like a gift (to me, that is). And, I hope that it feels like a gift to my students as well. There are many subtleties to attend to as a beginning student but, regardless, when the class members allow themselves to relax into the movements, the music, and the moment, it feels like mmm ... magic.

Though I arrived home tired I also feel deeply--and incredibly--relaxed. What a joy! to move, to relax, and to savor some meditative moments....

Monday, February 8, 2010

Being a Refuge

Light snow falls gently throughout my practice.... Not heavy or wet like the snow that pounded the eastern seaboard this past weekend leaving--according to my sister who lives in Baltimore--at least two feet in its wake. Not prolific and wind-blown like the snow predicted for the Chicago area over the next several days. No, light, gentle, easy ... similar to a soft, relaxed t'ai chi chih practice.

I watch dashing, dancing grey squirrels flit across acres of snow and up and down trees while I move. Truly, these small gleeful rodents fully exhibit the meaning of joy thru movement. There is incredible grace, flow, effortlessness, and beauty in their movements.

I continue to refine individual movements as I glide through my practice. Always, always I keep my focus on t'an t'ien and my gradual weight shift forward and back, side-to-side.

This is so good for me to return to the beginning once again. Observing everything. Noticing. Changing. Feeling. Experiencing.

At the end of practice I sit quietly and allow myself to receive. I feel grateful to have one thing only to focus upon; being in this moment, welcoming it into me. For these few minutes I abandon my efforts of doing, judging, or achieving. I simply am and ... it's wonderfully freeing.
... be ye lamps unto yourselves, be ye a refuge to yourselves. Betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the Truth as a lamp; hold fast to the Truth as a refuge. Look not for a refuge in anyone beside yourselves.
                         The Buddha
                         From: The Mystic Vision, p. 30

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Being with Self; Being with All

Thankfully, today's practice felt steadier and more stable than yesterday's. I flowed through the movements and moments with greater ease and peacefulness. Afterwards I sat quietly for five minutes. Sr. Antonia suggested at last weekend's retreat that we take a few minutes after each practice to simply sit, feet flat on the floor, and receive.

I can't explain what it feels like to receive since it's so momentary and non-intellectual. It is definitely a sensory experience. Today I felt great quietness, heat, fullness. Yes, that's right, I was filled up. But what filled me? Chi? Peace? Contentment? Gratitude? Relief? Silence? I could ask more questions, present more hypotheses, but what I most wanted was to sit quietly receiving whatever it was that came to me.

My quiet moments reminded me of a story Sr. Antonia shared in the film, On the Road Home, which I re-watched last night. Sister mentions an instance when she sat down for Centering Prayer and realized that she was anything but centered. Instead she rose and went into her t'ai chi chih practice. A half-hour later--post-t'ai chi chih--she returned to her Centering Prayer; she was now fully present ... in the moment.

And perhaps that's what I felt today: deep presence and a connection to All. I recently read an excerpt from Joseph Campbell's Power of Myth in which he writes about walking the labyrinth. It reminded me of t'ai chi chih practice....
     The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.
                         From: The Mystic Vision, p. 27

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Trying ... Not Trying

Wow. What a rollercoaster ride. I didn't want to do my practice--and especially my blog--today. It felt like too much effort. I was exhausted. Finally, about 5:30 pm I began to move.

Practice was difficult. My knees were sore, my legs shaky. Still, I persevered. As I moved I witnessed the fading of daylight, the coming of darkness, and a small wedge of light that filtered through the living room window onto the deck railing.

There were moments of grace. They reminded me of a comment I made to one of my t'ai chi chih classes many years ago. After we'd finished our practice I told my students, Oh ... there was so much grace and flow in this room.

One of my students raised his hand and replied: I'm sorry, but Grace and Flo did not sign up for this class.

When I finally sat down at the computer to complete my blog, it spilled out through my fingers onto the keyboard. After I pressed the "publish post" key, though, I received an error message. My words were lost!

Interesting. Part of today's blog was about my perfectionism--both in my writing and in my movements--so now ... this was my opportunity to write quickly, to release perfectionism's hold upon me, and to deliver less thoughtful prose than what I'm used to serving up to my readers.

Justin Stone's wise words from Spiritual Odyssey came to mind (p. 15):
     Trying is not the Way
     Not trying is not the Way
You say it must be one or the other,
     But I say
     Neither Nor

Friday, February 5, 2010

May All Creation Dance for Joy...

To begin the day ... so sweet.
To rest through the night ... so long.
To be carried thru time in-between
And begin my practice ... strong.
          Steph (words upon awakening)
Several new students joined yesterday's continuing class in Cornucopia. They practiced almost daily with Justin Stone's DVD following their beginning session in the fall until the start of this session. They became better acquainted with the movements. But, asked one, would it help to practice on our own without the DVD?

Yes, it would, I responded. When you watch the DVD, you focus on how the people on the screen are moving; when you practice on your own, you focus more completely on your own movements.

Today I practiced in front of the mirror of my glass patio door ... in darkness. I observed myself as if from a distance: Steph the observer watched Steph the practitioner. The key principle to remember when practicing in front of a reflective surface? Be gentle with yourself.

It can be tremendously beneficial to have a feedback loop, a mirrored image with which to observe and refine your movements. It's something else entirely to allow yourself to be carried away on self-judgment. To observe, notice, and refine bits of your form that can improve through slight changes and adjustments is one thing; to be captured in blame and self-criticism is another.

I'm reminded of Sr. Antonia at our Practice and Retreat last weekend. First, she suggested a change in our movements, then she asked us to move with her, and finally she queried, "Doesn't that feel good?" It did! The flow improved, the Chi circulated more freely, the bodily tension relaxed, and the joy thru movement radiated through the room.
May all things move and be moved in me
     and know and be known in me
May all creation
     dance for joy within me.
               Chinook Psalter
               From: Earth Prayers, p. 364

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Nurture the Root

Cultivate the root.
The leaves and branches will
take care of themselves.
          -- Confucius
This quote is an ideal teaching--and reminder--for t'ai chi chih practice. For me, the leaves and branches represent the hands and arms. While the hands may move in circles, push forward and back, carry balls to the side, and pull taffies we must always be aware that our upper body motion is stimulated by t'an t'ien and the shifting of the weight. Even though the moving arms and hands may be what most people notice--and what many t'ai chi chih practitioners focus upon--the true power and inspiration for the movements comes from below the waist.

As I further refine my practice--and as I learned from Sr. Antonia this past weekend--I feel the root in the soles of my feet but also in the palms of my hands as they sink down toward the earth and in my tailbone. Just like the roots of a tree or plant my rootlets provide stability and convey nourishment, i.e., life force energy that flows from the Earth into my body.

This morning's continuing t'ai chi chih class in Cornucopia, WI was a wonderful new beginning. It felt good--as always--to experience the Chi with others. There were numerous comments offered after our circle practice about the ways in which our attention moved away from practice to ? (Each person had a different focus point or lack of focus.) We agreed that our coming together again after a two-month break was timely and welcome.

Post-practice I shared some of my experiences at the TCC Retreat in St. Paul. It was obvious to all, myself included, that I'm eager to share what I learned and to continue to integrate new learnings into my own practice. One of those learnings--an important one--is to remember to connect with your root....
                                             Why/Why Not?
     One time some students from out-of-town came to visit me. After doing some T'ai Chi Chih together, the conversation became more general. As is usual, someone asked about reincarnation (a bad term).
     I pointed at the trees in the courtyard. 'It is autumn now, so the leaves are falling from the trees,' I explained, 'but they will be back in the spring. Is that what you mean by reincarnation?'
     'Oh, those will be different leaves!' they rushed to point out.
     'Why identify with the leaves?' I asked. 'Why not identify with the tree?'
From: Spiritual Odyssey: Selected Writings of Justin F. Stone, 1985-1997, p. 37

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Following the T'ai Chi Chih Path

Glorious sunshine! Snow sparkles glitter over rooftops, hillsides, and railings. The temperature gauge creeps slowly up from 0 to 5, then 10 degrees, and higher still.

"It's supposed to get up to 20 degrees tomorrow," said one of the clerks at the grocery store last night with a mixture of hope and excitement in her voice. Today, as I see it happening, I'm excited too.

During today's practice I begin to integrate the teachings from our t'ai chi chih retreat and practice of last week. Of course, every single movement can be improved and deepened; the Chi allowed to circulate more freely. I recognize how much I have inadvertently adjusted my t'ai chi chih practice to accommodate an old knee injury that never fully healed.

I also notice, though, that as I reach a deeper understanding of how to move my body, how to allow t'ai t'ien to lead me through every movement--every step of the heel, every lift of the hands and arms, every circling of energy from foot to foot (yinning and yanging)--I'm more free to ride the flow of Chi.

After nearly 15 years of t'ai chi chih practice it's exciting to experience an ever-deepening level of energy, to open myself to more softness, to sink myself deeper into my root. I'm still learning to be patient ... and trust.
         All Paths Lead to Me
Life is a challenge          * Meet it
Life is a gift                   * Accept it
Life is an adventure       * Dare it
Life is a sorrow             * Overcome it
Life is a tragedy             * Face it
Life is a duty                  * Perform it
Life is a game                * Play it
Life is a Mystery            * Unfold it
Life is a song                 * Sing it
Life is an opportunity     * Take it
Life is a journey             * Complete it
Life is a promise            * Fulfil it
Life is a love                  * Embrace it
Life is a beauty              * Praise it ...
               Seen in a draper's shop in India
               From: The Mystic Vision, p. 24

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cheerful and Chi-full

I sink into a brief 15-minute practice this morning. Later this evening I begin teaching two new classes, one, beginning and the other, continuing. I review the movements I'll teach tonight and simultaneously energize and refresh myself for the day ahead.

The sun is a glowing beacon lying low in the sky. Chiripa, our beautiful Chi-filled kitten, sits calmly on my shoulder as I write. Her breakfast just completed, she's grooming and--I expect--contemplating her next move.

I continue to feel enormously grateful for the TCC retreat and practice of last weekend. I'm excited by the prospect of going deeper into my practice, eager to experience a freer flow of Chi, and curious to discover how my life changes as I draw greater quantities of energy into my life. I trust that change will occur even as I realize that sometimes its shape is so subtle that I may not consciously understand what is transforming.

Still, I know from last weekend that my quiet, retiring, bashful, and sometimes fearful self is unfolding by reaching out to others, opening up, asking for help, and accepting what's offered. The circle continues....
Your own Self-Realization
is the greatest service you can
render the world.
          Sri Ramana Maharshi
          From: The Mystic Vision, February 2

Monday, February 1, 2010

Loving Kindness, Grounding, Letting Go ...

The benefits of last weekend's t'ai chi chih retreat and practice linger....

Early this morning I attended a hearing in Bayfield County Circuit Court regarding a proposed 380 acre development in my town that positions an airplane/jet landing strip over an area identified as a navigable stream. A local group, Citizens for Responsible Land Use (CFRLU), protested the County Board's procedure in rezoning the site for said development.

I chose to attend these proceedings as a witness to the process since I'm well-aware that this matter concerns me deeply. I did not want to launch into anger or to be drawn into a battle of wills so I sat quietly sending thoughts and energies of peace and love to all participants. After the attorneys for both parties presented their arguments the judge stated that waterways are a public trust and he assured us that "taxpayers and citizens have rights." He then referred the matter back to the County Board in order for them to follow the required steps to determine whether this rezone is appropriate.

Afterwards I felt overcome by gratefulness. I was reminded of the pattern Sr. Antonia established during the retreat; we performed our t'ai chi chih movements and then sat quietly afterwards to receive. I soon returned to the car and sat in silence to receive the hope and gratefulness that followed this decision by the Court.

Back home I began my t'ai chi chih practice and quickly felt revitalized following a morning of legal wrangling. Today's practice was the first day of many in the hours and weeks ahead where I will take the learnings and experiences from our TCC retreat and practice more fully into my body, mind, and spirit. For me, that is one of the wonders of t'ai chi chih joy thru movement. We can always go deeper into our practice and journey more deeply into ourselves.

Sr. Antonia reminded us of the ultimate benefits of t'ai chi chih practice by quoting Justin Stone's words in Spiritual Odyssey (p. 31):
If we examine it closely, we find that awareness is the root of T'ai Chi Chih, which is essentially inner-oriented. Circularity is the fundamental. And we already know that 'softness and continuity' are the Essence. When we practise T'ai Chi Chih faithfully, we will find that Love Energy is the fruit.
Thank you to Justin Stone, Sr. Antonia, and participants at Sewing the Seeds of T'ai Chi Chih for reminding, encouraging, and supporting me in creating the change I wish to see in myself and in the world.